I had a new wine experience this past weekend. I wish this meant tasting a new exotic variety, or an ancient vintage, or even just a good Pinotage. But no, it was far more banal than any one of those, it was a trip to the Wade Bales Society wine sale.
To be clear, this is not a column about the Wade Bales Wine Society. I am sure they do a good enough job selling wine, but those efforts interest me little. I hear every year either by word of mouth, Twitter, or email that these Wade Bale people sell wine for very cheap every now and again. I’m as much of sucker for a good deal as anyone, but have become increasingly wary of wine deals. Hearing of this one so often, I thought it was time to check it out.
I arrived at their offices, on the Klein Constantia road, at 08h40, 10 minutes after the advertised opening time. There were cars everywhere. It seemed this sale is even more popular that I thought. It turned out that people had been waiting for nearly an hour before the doors had opened with camping chairs and flasks of coffee. Why they would do this is beyond me, because it took me less than an hour after arriving on time to get in, buy wine, and leave. That’s the Southern suburbs for you.
And dear lord was this event suburban. Before I even noticed any wine I quickly realized that this was the whitest most middle-aged, middle-class happening I had ever been to. Now I’m white and middle class, and I have been to bowls tournaments, bingo evenings, and a few gallery openings featuring photographs of babies, but this place took the whole goddamn victorian sponge.
I moved through a seething mass of crocs, chinos and golf shirts, bumping into a gaggle of ladies hiding behind those strange golfing visor hats discussing R25 Sauvignon Blancs, as I made my way to the back of a long queue.
One of the big draw cards for this suburban scrum is the mystery case. 12 bottles of mixed mystery wine for just under R300, so about R25 a bottle. I was at 2-1 they were going to be kak.
There were a couple hundred of these cases for sale and were just about sold out by the time I joined the queue. Trying to filter out the “dah-lings” and “the children are in India this year” type conversations I took a look down the list of what other wines were available.
No interest, no surprise. Just a big fat “meh”. The only wine for me was the 2011 Paul Cluver Riesling at R50 a bottle. It’s a good deal, but not worth queuing for half an hour in a sea of beige. The other punters seemed excited. Wine was opened so that you could buy before hand, so this could have explained the jollity in the air, or perhaps word went round that there was a game of canasta being planned for later that morning.
I was genuinely interested to hear what people thought of the wines. Edgebaston, made by David Finlayson, seemed to be a favourite. People spoke about the wines with a very, “I know what I like, and I like what I know” sort of attitude. Sauvignon Blanc is still a preffered tipple here, and the big macho – if ungainly – reds of our past still have supporters in this set.
I heard a rumour that some Chamonix Rouge may be in the mystery case. This bolstered my spirits. It really is a bargain wine. Delicious, not a joke, I’ll drink two.
Alas, after I had handed over my half-earned (why I was not simply buying two good bottles of Northern Rhone for the same price is beyond me) and opened the box, not only was there no Chamonix, there was little of anything. I am not sure if each case is different, but my case of miscellaneous wines has given me little joy so far. But at R25 a bottle, what’s the problem, right? Wrong.
I imagine that this sale is not big enough to really damage the brands whose wine finds its way into these cases, but it isn’t doing them any favours. It was interesting to see how excited everyone was about wine. Or were they? It felt people were more excited that they could buy a bottle of wine for the price of Constantia muffin. This for me posed two problems. One, these sorts of fire-sales can skew people’s perceptions as to the value of wine. “I wouldn’t pay R80 for that, I got it at Wade’s for R25”. These sorts of sales push people even further away from considering to spend R150 on a bottle of wine. The corollary of these sales is that R150 is a rip-off. “How very dare they charge me that. That R30 bottle was just as good.” Was it?
Bargains are great, but they are not the whole point.
The final thing I took away from this morning excursion behind the white-picket curtain, was how damn conservative our wine drinking habits are. These people had money. They were frothing – in a middle-class sort of way – to get their hands on wine, yet the wines on offer were as middle-of-the-road as you could find. I am sure Wade Bales and his staff could find some smaller producers, some guys doing something different, maybe not make a big profit, but surely introduce a whole bunch of people to newer, more interesting wines.
Or not. I guess they are happy to offload old-stock, cynical cheap wines, to the croc wearing, chino buying suburban masses.
Or am I wrong? Did you go to the sale and pick up anything worthwhile?
[imagesource: JOOINN] The move to alert level 1 and the easing of restrictions have be...
I was going to write about my Monday, which saw roughly 12 humans coming at me between 8AM...
UPDATE: Donovan has responded with an apology video, which you can see at the bottom of th...
[imagesource: Augusto Zurita / AP] Shows like Narcos may have glorified aspects of the ...
Well done on making it through another week. Just think, this time next week you'll be ...